Many people think that because these young people resulted from wanted pregnancies, how they were conceived doesn’t matter to them. But … when they are adults, sperm donor offspring struggle with serious losses from being purposefully denied knowledge of, or a relationship with, their sperm donor biological fathers.
That’s the conclusion of a provocative research study that compared adults fathered by sperm donors with adults adopted as infants or raised by biological parents. It’s estimated that 30,000 to 60,000 children each year are fathered by sperm donors, and another 6,000 children are conceived by egg donation. By now there may be as many as a million American adults with a sperm donor for a genetic dad.
What’s not to like about a donor daddy?
Publicity for this study – fifteen major findings that were featured — included some neutral findings (donor conception is not “just like” adoption). But the emphasis was on decidedly negative conclusions.
The study reveals that, on average, young adults conceived through sperm donation are hurting more, are more confused, and feel more isolated from their families. They fare worse than their peers raised by biological parents on important outcomes such as depression, delinquency, and substance abuse.
Among the major findings:
• Young adults conceived through sperm donation (or “donor offspring”) experience profound struggles with their origins and identities.
• Family relationships for donor offspring are more often characterized by confusion, tension, and loss.
• Donor offspring often worry about the implications of interacting with – and possibly forming intimate relationships with – unknown, blood-related family members.
• Donor offspring are significantly more likely than those raised by their biological parents to struggle with serious, negative outcomes such as delinquency, substance abuse, and depression, even when controlling for socio-economic and other factors.
Infertile parents should “accept” their condition
The study comes from the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values. The Center is headed by an opponent of gay marriage (David Blankenhorn, author of Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem). One blogger describes the Center as “offering intellectual support for the superiority of traditional family values.”
One remarkable recommendation of the study is that parents who are infertile should rethink their desire to have children.
“Infertile parents should seriously consider either adoption or ‘acceptance’ of their condition. Educate yourself on the consequences of conceiving a child with donor sperm or eggs. ” In other words, the authors are saying, our study shows that if you choose sperm donation, your child is likely to be depressed, delinquent, and a drug abuser. You would be much better off not bringing a child into the world.
”Natural conception” vs. “scientific technique”
Discussions of the study in the blogosphere have featured the finding that children of sperm donors are more likely to be sperm donors themselves. It turns out that twenty percent of adults with sperm donor fathers have already donated sperm or eggs or been a surrogate mother. The corresponding numbers for adopted adults and adults raised by biological parents were zero percent and one percent, respectively. Over 50% of donor-conceived adults said they would consider such actions.
This finding was featured in the fifteen major findings. The study’s authors – who were active in the blogosphere discussion – used this fact to argue that their results were not biased and did not express a conservative point of view. But if you think about it, featuring this finding is quite consistent with the goals of the sponsoring institution, the Institute for
Family American Values. The Institute aims to increase the number of children born to families with two parents who are married to each other. More specifically, it advocates reducing non-traditional conception through greater regulation and scrutiny of reproductive technologies. From the Insitute’s perspective, if the children of gamete donors overwhelmingly perpetuate the practice, that’s one more reason to increase regulation and scrutiny.
A different take on this finding was voiced at Strollerderby:
[A]n unusual conception may encourage people to think longer, and harder, about questions of identity, biology and family that many of us are able to dismiss. But even though the lives that spring from sperm donation may be highly examined, a large number of the people living those lives seem to be willing to give others the same opportunity.
For further discussion of this study, see The New York Times editorial by conservative columnist Ross Douthat (note the language: “[the] burdens … inherent to a process that replaces natural conception with scientific technique”) and the letters published in response to the editorial. There’s also a lengthy discussion at Slate.
Among the letters to the Times was this one from a past president of a branch of the American Psychiatric Association:
[A]dvocacy-group reports like this one are rarely subject to blind peer review, a minimum requirement for scientific objectivity.
Without critical feedback from scientific peers, such reports usually support the pre-existing prejudices and assumptions of the authors or the organization financing the work. These “studies” offer little scientific understanding of the complex issues involved.
Interesting interview at The Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies with a participant in the study, Alana Sveta. She is the child of a sperm donor, has a sister adopted from Korea, and a brother with two biological parents. The comments include the interviewer’s reply to the study’s author, who claims The Institute for American Values is not a conservative organization:
While I realize that you and your founder David Blankenhorn do not see your advocacy of “one-mommy-one-daddy” parenting, and opposition to gay marriage and gay parenting, as conservative, I’m afraid the rest of us do. …
That includes for instance the Catholic Church, which is championing your “study” as evidence of the harm that the unholy abomination of assisted reproduction does to children, and why it needs to be shut down. …
As I believe my conversation with the charming and intelligent Ms. Sveta showed, entirely contrary conclusions can be drawn from the fact that some people fetishize genetic bonds between parents and children. That is, parents who make use of sperm donation and then treat those kids differently need better values, just as homophobic parents, or workaholic parents, or racist parents need better values. You prefer to blame the complaints of some of these kids on their mom’s reproductive decisions, while I prefer to blame society.
A raffle for free (human) eggs
Links of Interest: Sperm donors, egg donors, and surrogates
Is it OK to eat and drink during labor?
Do children really need chocolate baby formula?
Babies are individuals: Don’t fret the milestones
Padded bikini bras for seven-year-olds
Baby Isaiah’s parents expect second child
Photo source: Family Evolutions
Elizabeth Marquardt, Norval Glenn, and Karen Clark, My Daddy’s Name is Donor: A New Study of Young Adults Conceived through Sperm Donation, Family Scholars,
Karen Clark and Elizabeth Marquardt, The Sperm-Donor Kids Are Not Really All Right, Slate, June 14, 2010
Sierra, Sperm donor kids actually just fine, thanks, Strollerderby, June 14, 2010
KJ, Adults conceived through sperm donation are 20 times more likely to donate sperm, eggs or wombs, Strollerderby, June 1, 2010
Ross Douthat, The Birds and the Bees (via the Fertility Clinic), The New York Times, May 30, 2010
NYT response letters, A Family, No Matter How It’s Created, The New York Times, June 4, 2010